Read The Countess De Charny - Volume II Online
Authors: Alexandre Dumas
Tags: #Classics, #Historical
Pitou counted his louis. There were one thousand five hundred and fifty of them; and with one thousand five hundred and fifty louis, or thirty-seven thousand two hundred francs in gold, Pitou was a rich man, for as every gold louis was worth nine hundred and twenty francs in assignats, Pitou was now the possessor of one million four hundred and twenty-six thousand francs, — nearly a million and a half, — the cost of the queen’s famous necklace.
And think of it! this immense wealth came into his possession at a moment when, having no money to buy wood, he was breaking up a chair to warm his precious Catherine.
How fortunate that he was so poor, the weather so cold, and the armchair so old! But for the combination of circumstances, what might have been the fate of this valuable inheritance? He stuffed all the gold into his pockets, then breaking the frame of the chair into small pieces, he piled thera up in the fireplace and set fire to them.
It was quite time, for in a minute or two Catherine and little Isidore came in shivering with cold. Pitou pressed the boy to his heart, kissed Catherine’s cold liands, and then hurried off, saying, “I ‘ve some very important business to attend to; so good-bye for a little while.”
“Where is Papa Pitou going?” asked the cliild.
“I don’t know,” replied Catherine; “but tliis mucli is certain. When he rushes off like that, he is busy, not with his own affairs, but with thine or mine.”
In this case Catherine might have said with perfect truth, “with tliine and mine.”
)S0 LA COMTESSE DE CIIARNY.
THE USE PITOU MADE OF THE GOLD FOUND IN AUNT angelica’s AEMCHAIR.
It should not be forgotten that the sale of Billot’s farm and the Charny Château was to take place on the following day. It will be remembered, too, that the lowest price which would be accepted for the farm had been set at four hundred thousand francs, while the château was valued at six hundred thousand francs, in assignats.
When the day of the sale came. Citizen Longpre purchased both these estates for some unknown person, pay-ing for them one thousand three hundred and fifty louis in gold; that is to say, for one million two hundred and forty -two thousand francs in assignats. He paid cash for the property.
This sale took place on Sunday, the afternoon before the wedding day.
Early that morning, Catherine had gone to Haramont to make some of those little preparations which the most sensible ladies deem necessary on the eve of wedlock. Perhaps, too, she did not care to remain in town while they were selling the beautiful farm where her childhood had been spent, and where she had been so happy and suffered so cruelly.
The crowd that assembled in front of the mayor’s office at eleven o’clock the next morning both pitied and praised Pitou for marrying a girl who was not only destitute of fortune, but was likewise hampered with a child, who, instead of being richer than herself some day, as she had once fondly hoped, was now even poorer and more dependent than his mother.
AYHAT PITOU DID WITH HIS GOLD. 381
While the crowd was thus engaged outside , Monsieur de Longpré was asking, in accordance with the formula of the time, —
” Citizen Ange Pitou, do you take for your wife Citizeness Anne Catherine Billot? “
And to Catherine, —
“Citizeness Anne Catherine Billot, do you take for your husband Citizen Pierre Ange Pitou?”
When both had answered in the affirmative, — Pitou in a voice trembling with emotion, and Catherine in the serenest possible tones, — the citizen-mayor proceeded to pronounce them husband and wife in the name of the law, and then beckoned little Isidore to come forward and speak to him.
“My child,” said the worthy mayor, “here are some papers you must give to Mamma Catherine after Papa Pitou takes her home.”
“Yes, monsieur,” lisped the child, clutching the papers tightly in his little hands.
All was over now, only, to the intense astonishment of every one, Pitou drew live louis from his pocket and handed them to the mayor.
“For the poor, monsieur,” he said.
“Are we such rich people?” she asked.
“One is rich when one is happy, Catherine,” replied Pitou ; ” so you have just made me the richest man in the world.”
lie offered her his arm. upon which she leaned confid-ingly. The crowd greeted them with loud acclamations as they appeared in the doorway. Pitou thanked his friends, and shook hands with them in the heartiest manner. Catherine also exclianged salutations with her friends, and bowed her thanks right and left.
Meanwhile, Pitou had turned to the right.
“Where are you going, my dear? ” asked Catlicrine.
For if Pitou intended to return to Ilaramont, lie should have taken the street to the left.
382 LA COMTESSE DE CHARNY.
“Corne Avith me, luy beloved Catherine,” replied Titou. ” I am taking you to a place you will be very glad to see again.”
They walked on together until they came to the lane where he met Catherine riding along on her donkey six years before, — the very day he was driven from his home by Aunt Angelica, and knew not where to lay his head.
“We are not going to Pisseleu, I hope,” said Catherine, stopping her husband.
“Come, Catherine; please come,” pleaded Pitou.
After walking about ten minutes longer, they came to the little bridge where Pitou had found Catherine in a deep swoon at the time of Monsieur Isidore’s sudden departure for Paris.
Here Catherine again paused, exclaiming, —
“No, no, Pitou; I can go no further.”
” Only as far as the willow-tree. Mademoiselle Catherine!” pleaded Pitou.
It was the same willow where Pitou had hidden Isidore’s letters, and found those which were to be sent to the young viscount in return. Catherine sighed heavily, and walked on; but on reaching the willow, she paused again, and exclaimed, —
“Let us turn back now, I beg of you.”
But Pitou laid his hand on her arm and said, “Twenty yards more. Mademoiselle Catherine , that is all I ask ! “
“Oh, Pitou,” cried Catherine, in such a reproachful tone that Pitou, too, paused and said, ” Ah, Mademoiselle Catherine, — and I thought it would make you so happy! “
” Make me so happy by taking me to the home of my childhood, — the home which belonged to my parents and which ought to belong to me, but which has passed into the hands of a stranger, whose very name is unknown to me!”
” Only twenty yards more, Mademoiselle Catherine. That is all I ask.”
Twenty yards brought them in sight of the big gate of
WHAT PITOU DID WITH HIS GOLD. 383
the farm ; and around this gate all the waggoners, hostlers, and milkmaids were assembled with Father Clouis at their head. Each person had a bouquet in his hand.
” Ah, I understand,” exclaimed Catherine. ” You wanted to bring me here, so all the old servants could bid me good-bye before the new owner came. Thank you, Pitou.”
And, dropping her husband’s arm and little Isidore’s hand, she walked on towards these good people, who surrounded her and led her into the hall of the farm-house. Pitou took little Isidore in his arms and followed Catherine.
His wife was sitting in the middle of the spacious hall rubbing her forehead with her hand, as if she were trying to arouse herself from a dream.
“In Heaven’s name, what are they telling me, Pitou?” she cried wildly. “I cannot understand it.”
“Perhaps the papers your child has, will help you to understand it better, my dear Catherine,” said Pitou, pushing little Isidore gently forward.
Catherine took the papers from the child’s little hands, and, opening one of them, read as follows : —
This is to certify that the Chateau de Boursonnes and the lands pertaining thereto were purchased of me and paid for yesterday, February 14th, 1794, on account of Jacques Phili()j)e Isidore, the minor child of Citizeness Catherine Billot ; and therefore it is to said minor child the aforesaid Château de Boursonnes and its appurtenances legally belong.
Signed, Db Longpriî,
Mayor of Villcrs-Cottercts.
” What does this mean, Pitou? ” asked Catherine. ” You must see that I don’t understand a word of it! “
“Read the other paper,” said Pitou.
And so, unfolding the other paper, Catherine read tlie following: —
This is to certify that the farm known as Pissoleu, with all its appurtenances, was bought of me and jtaid for yesterday, February
384 LA COMTESSE DE CIIARNY.
14tli, 1794, on account of Citizeness Anne Catherine Billot, and that she is cousocjuently the sole and lawful owner of said property and all its appurtenances.
Signed, De Longpriî,
Mayor of Viller s - Cotter ets.
“For God’s sake tell me what this means, or I shall go mad ! ” cried Catherine.
“It means that, owing to the fact that I found fifteen hundred gold louis in Aunt Angelica’s old armchair that I was breaking up to kindle a fire with, before your return from the funeral, the Château de Boursonnes will not pass out of the Charny family, or Pisseleu farm out of the possession of the Billots.”
And Pitou related the incidents with which our readers are already familiar,
“Oh, Pitou, and you had the courage to burn that old armchair when you had all that money in your pocket ! ” exclaimed Catherine.
“But you were about to return, Catherine,” replied Pitou, ” and you would nearly have perished with the cold before T could have bought any wood and got it home.”
Catherine held out both her arms. Pitou pushed little Isidore forward.
” You, too, dear Pitou ! you, too ! ” cried Catherine, clasping both her son and her husband to her heart in a single embrace.
” Oh, my God ! ” murmured Pitou, overwhelmed with joy, but at the same time paying the tribute of a last tear to his aged aunt. ” And to think she should have died of cold and hunger! Poor Aunt Angelica! “
” Upon my word,” said a burly waggoner to a fresh -looking, blooming milkmaid, “upon my word, there are two persons who don’t seem likely to die in that way!”